March 13, 2002
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Mr. Palmer for joining us for your annual visit to the Bay Hill Invitational media center. Why don't you begin with a couple of comments on some of the changes you've made to the Bay Hill Golf Course.
ARNOLD PALMER: Okay. How deep do you want me to talk about the golf course?
First of all, this summer we changed all of the greens. We put tiffeagle on the greens, and we changed the undulation, I would say, modestly on all of the greens. Some of them you will not notice it, or the players will not notice it. And then some of them, it's a little more obvious, such as 16, where we changed the entire green, moved it more to the right, and we reduced the size to approximately 5,000 feet and put some, I would call, modestly severe to severe undulation on the greens. The left side of the green will be a dangerous target, let's say; that's the best way I can explain it. If you hit the left side and the ball is pulling left, it is very likely to go into the water.
Now, a lot of players probably will not really appreciate that too much, but, you know, the theory on that is that the hole is a par 5; it's so easy. Most of them will be hitting 4-, 5-, 6-irons, maybe even shorter clubs, into the greens. So we have made it relatively severe. And you can hit a good shot in there and make 3 just about as easy as some of the par 4's. And we'll see how that works this year, and if it doesn't, if we can't be satisfied, then we'll have a look at the hole and maybe make it something else next year.
The rest of the golf course, there are no new tees. The length of the golf course, for some of us, is too damn long, but for the guys, the guys on the Tour, it's really not that long. It's going to measure somewhere near 7,200, and the holes that will be holes to watch are 8, 9. I guess they are going to be the most difficult from the length standpoint, depending on how the wind blows.
The back nine is not any different. 11, of course is a pretty good hole, but again, the guys will not have any problem reaching it with short irons.
Overall, the golf course is in the best condition that it's been in my 33 years here, without question. The rough is not any higher than it's ever been, but it is thicker. And, of course, the obstacle there will be to get it out of the rough and hold it on the much harder greens. The greens are going to be firmer, even with the heavy rain we had last night, and they will be fast. We will probably Stimp them at around 11, and they will be fairly firm. I would expect by Thursday morning, the rain that we had last night will have gone through pretty quickly; so they will regain most of the firmness.
You'll see something that might come up that I'll mention to you, and that is -- and that is not intentional, I promise you, it's not intentional. But you'll see some shots, the guys saying the greens are a little hard, might play a shot a little short, and, of course, there's not a hell of a lot we can do about that. The ball will stop short. That's just because of the nature of the grasses and the difference of the grasses. It wasn't done intentionally. We will try to correct that in the next year, but if you hear someone say something about, "Boy, he really screwed us up by wetting the front of the approaches where the ball stops, and then on the green it takes big bounces," that's not intentional at all. That's just a quirk of the system, the way it came out.
I guess that's it, unless you have a question about the golf course.
Q. Tom Ridge, everyone knows him as the Director of Homeland Security, and you are his good friend. What are you going to do here on his one day off?
ARNOLD PALMER: Tommy Ridge, would you say hello to everybody?
Tommy is a good friend. He's been a friend for a number of years and we've been doing this for a number of years, and he comes to Latrobe and Laurel Valley, so we have just been friends over a number of years.
The fact that he has become Homeland Security Chief is just another one of the many things that he has done that is so good for America. He was a great governor of Pennsylvania; and I don't care what your politics are, it doesn't bother me. But he was a great governor, he's a great guy, and he's doing a hell of a job in a tough, tough situation in home security.
Unless you have a question, that's the end of my conversation about that.
Q. Are you all going to hit the links today while he's here?
ARNOLD PALMER: Certainly, we're going to play golf. What do you think he came for? (Laughter.)
Yes, we are going to play golf.
Q. Is it different now, though? He has a slew of Secret Service around him; it must be a lot different than when he came as just your friend?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, he's always had some protection as governor. And, of course, we don't want anything to go wrong. We want to keep him on the save side of the street, and those Secret Service guys are all good guys; so they will take good care of him.
Q. Can you talk about the infusion of young talent? You've got Tryon playing here, Kuchar wins last week, a lot of kids 21, 22, 23. What is your view, why is that happening and is it good?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think it's just a matter of, call it the Tiger Era, or call it whatever you want. Golf, through the many things that have happened in the last, oh, 20 years, maybe 25 years, back to let's say the early 60s, mid 60s right on, more kids, more parents, are becoming aware of what can happen if you're a pretty good golfer.
When you start with that, and you start with the parents looking at young people and what they might like to do.
And the availability of golf; that is another big factor, the fact that we have made golf more and more available to young people, whether it be at the Country Clubs, public golf courses, the First Tee Program, whatever. That is something that has caused what you're asking me a question about, and it's going to get even heavier and heavier. We're going to see more young people, young stars, both men and women, coming into the game.
An example of that, you know Ty, and he's playing here and he's 17 years old. Now, you didn't ask me an opinion, so I won't give you one.
But I will tell you that I have a 14-year-old grandson, who -- these kids, he's six feet, he's 180 pounds and he can hit the ball almost as far, if not as far as Tiger Woods. Now, he doesn't have the control or the posture or the maturity, but he is shooting rounds in the 60s, 70s, constantly, winning golf tournaments at 14, a la Ty, and what has happened to him and his maturity into the game.
My grandson will complete high school starting this coming year, and if everything goes well and he keeps his nose clean, he'll go to Wake Forest University, play four years and graduate. And then if he's a good enough player, he might play on the Tour, and that's my direction for him.
Q. If he were to come to you at the age of 17 and say, "Grandpa, I want to play, I think my game is good enough to play on the Tour right now," what would you tell him?
ARNOLD PALMER: I would say: Sam, you can certainly do what you want to do. I'm not going to stop you. I'm going to advise you that this life is short, and there are a lot of things that you need to know other than golf. One is education; and then some fun, girls, other things, that are important, to, I think, young people. And that doesn't mean that you're cutting yourself off by just playing golf, but some of the social things and some of the educational things.
I turned pro when I was 25 years old and it certainly didn't hinder my life to wait until then. I was in the Service for three years, I went to college for four years. I did a lot of things that you might think were unnecessary, but they were to me, very necessary and you don't understand that until you get as old as I am now.
The most important things that happened to me, maybe the book education wasn't so important, but the maturity and the other things that I learned in school were very important and they helped me from a maturing standpoint.
Q. Over the years, you've had lots of interactions with Tiger Woods both here and at Augusta and other places, I'm sure. What impresses you most as Tiger, not so much as a golfer, but as a person and away from competition?
ARNOLD PALMER: Of course, when I first saw Tiger, he was a little tyke, and he took -- he had a very natural situation to golf. He had some close monitoring by his father, and he matured very early. And his golf swing was fantastic at an early age, and the things that he learned to do, whether it be flipping the golf club on a ball on a golf club, or whether it be how he played the game and his determination and desire. And I've used those two terms in the very vein that I'm using them, determination and desire, and they are different; and he had both of them.
I spoke to Tiger just prior to his turning pro in Napa, California, one year and we talked about all of the things that are now a reality and things that he is doing in his life. But he took the time, and this is important, I think, he took the time to drive from Stanford to Napa and have dinner and asked if he could have dinner with me and talk about his future and his life. And I think he's done a wonderful job of all that, and part of it, I'd like to think was the fact that we did discuss some of the more unpleasant things, and all of the things that might affect his life. I think Tiger has handled it very well.
Q. One criticism of Tiger seems to be that is he isn't vocal on social issues, and I'm wondering if you agree with that; and were those questions asked of you when you were on TOUR to be more vocal on non-golf-related issues?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, first of all, I said I thought he was handling his situation very well. I will continue with that conversation.
I really don't think there's much to gain by getting involved in social issues and other things, and as I said, he's handled it very well.
Q. Were those questions asked of you when you were on TOUR? Did the media or fans put those types of stipulations on you, wishing you would be more out spoken? How did you handle that?
ARNOLD PALMER: The same way I'm handling this situation right now. (Laughter.)
My father taught me a few things, and that was one of them. (Laughter.)
Q. You talked about waiting until you were 25 to turn pro, to experience things in life. Do you think players are turning too early, if they turn pro at 18 or 19?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I would like to think that maybe I've handled that with what I said about it. I think that young people are learning a little bit more earlier now, whether it be in school or whether it be out playing golf and the experience of competition.
You know, there are a lot of people that that's their goal and that's what they are going to do, and I can't object to that.
On the other hand, I look at the guys that were later bloomers, let's call it, or later comers on the Tour. You think of a guy like Larry Nelson. We don't talk about Larry Nelson too much, but Larry was considerably older when he turned pro and did very, very well, and is doing very well.
So the early turning pro and becoming a touring pro, once you do it, you're there. You know, it's hard to turn back once you start doing that. And I've seen guys that in the past, and we don't talk about the people that did it and we don't hear about them, but there are a lot of them out there that turn pro at 19, 20, and it didn't work, and we don't hear about them. We only hear about the success stories about the guys that made it and became stars and made a lot of money and so on.
But there are just as many people out there that didn't make it and have had to go and seek other ways of conducting their lives.
Q. The changes at Augusta, I understand you were consulted before they made them. Are any of those eventual changes ones that you suggested?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I went to Augusta and did the entire golf course, just listening, from the Chairman. And, of course, the questions that were asked of me, what do you think of this, and I thought that most of them were very, very good.
I suppose there are a couple of holes that I might have had some influence, such as 9, but not a great deal. Most of the changes that you will see at Augusta were done. I mean, they were done on paper when I went around, and I had no problem with them. I thought they were very good.
And I think now, I've played it a couple of times, and I think it's appropriate. And it doesn't favor anyone. I heard some remarks about they were doing something to keep Tiger from winning; hell, if anything, they favor him. The long hitter is the guy that is going to be rewarded, on a couple of holes, particularly, and that would be 1 and 18.
But the golf course is absolutely basically the same as it has been for 40, 50 years, and they are not that big of changes, except at 1 and 18. They are the ones that I noticed the most.
14, 7, 9 are what I would call modest changes.
Q. Could you talk about the tournament here this week? It really seems to be a favorite of guys, and the local guys love to play here. Can you talk about how it's grown over the years to be a favorite?
ARNOLD PALMER: Of course, having the guys here at Bay Hill is very special to me, as you can imagine. And the fact that they come here is very gratifying. Of course, I try to have my people and the people involved in this golf tournament do everything we can to accommodate the players. You know we try to keep the people in the tournament that have been here for years, and some of them need exemptions; we try to cover that.
The whole situation is one to try to accommodate the players and make it a tournament that they like to win.
Q. Is it gratifying to you that they use your tournament as a tune-up to the TPC and the Masters?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course the crowds here are pretty good. I'm not worried about other tournaments. If we do a good job, the guys will come, and that's sort of the answer to that whole scenario. The golf tournament is one that they enjoy. I think they enjoy the golf course, and we're trying to do things to make the golf course even more interesting.
And the crowds, as you know, are tremendous. We have some of the biggest crowds on the Tour here, and I'm grateful for that, the local support.
Q. How many times have you played Augusta since it opened again in October?
ARNOLD PALMER: I've played twice.
Q. Both times from the championship tees or do you did you play the regular tees?
ARNOLD PALMER: Both times from the back tees. That's why I have a sore back (Laughter.)
Q. Jack had alluded to the fact that he's concerned it might make him look foolish if it's too tough and see a score he never thought he would post?
ARNOLD PALMER: Jack? (Gesturing, Jack Who?) Oh. (Laughter.)
Well, I think he's given a pretty good evaluation, really. The fact that we don't hit the ball anywhere near like we once did; that is going to be a factor for us. It's not going to be a factor for the young guys, the long hitters, the Flat Bellies as Tommy Bolt always called them.
Q. How much more challenging was it for you from the new tees?
ARNOLD PALMER: How much more challenging from the new tees? Oh, gosh, at 1, with a fair drive, I'm hitting a 5-wood or a 3-wood into the green. At 18, unless I really catch a good drive, it's a 3-wood. And I have to hit the hell out of both of them to get them on the green, as here.
But really, that's not very significant, because the comparison is not a good one. These young people are just hitting the ball a really long way.
Q. Looking to June, did you play Bethpage Black at all coming up?
ARNOLD PALMER: I have not.
Q. Never did?
ARNOLD PALMER: No, sir. So I don't know.
Q. Do you wonder if this might be the last time you play at the Masters, with will the course dictate?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I won't say the Masters particularly or Bay Hill particularly, but it's getting to the point where I probably will be very careful about where I play. And Masters and Bay Hill and some of the others -- I've decided not to play the Hope anymore, and that's going to be the general trend.
Q. What did you think of Hootie's comments a couple of weeks ago that Augusta may have to look into introducing its own specs for equipment?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I read that, and I can't comment too specifically, other than to say that that is a conversation that has been going around the golf world, not just at Augusta, but everywhere.
And Jack Nicklaus, and I, have been for a number of years, suggesting that they take a look at the golf ball and slow it down. Now, they can do that one of two ways. They can slow the golf ball down generally by making different specs on all golf balls. Or, they can do a two-game situation, one for the professionals and one for the Amateurs. I think both of those things are being looked at. That means that the golf ball that the pros use to play would be reduced and the other golf balls, they can do go ahead and do what they are doing today. The aerodynamics of a golf ball improves every day, and that means from a distance to hitting it straight and the whole thing.
We really need to look at both situations to decide what we want to do, make it one thing for the professionals playing the Tour, and another for the general public.
Q. Do you think the Tour should get involved?
ARNOLD PALMER: I also saw Tim Finchem's remarks. I suppose that he has every right, somewhere along the way, to take a look at that situation.
Q. When did you decide you weren't going to play the Bob Hope anymore, is this a recent decision?
ARNOLD PALMER: I decided that after I played this year.
Q. Did you tell them that?
ARNOLD PALMER: I did.
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Mr. Palmer, for joining us.
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